Palestinians celebrate Yasser Arafat
PALESTINIANS yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat, who for decades led their cause for an independent state.
Arafat, who was 75, was being remembered at a wreath-laying ceremony at his tomb in the West Bank city of Ramallah, attended by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
But a large rally scheduled for Gaza was cancelled following a series of explosions targeting the site of the event, as well as the property and cars of officials of Abbas’s Fatah party, which was founded by Arafat.
Arafat became the head of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), an umbrella group in which Fatah is the leading faction, in 1969. Initially operating against Israel from exile in Arab countries, he returned to the West Bank following the 1993 interim Oslo peace accords.
But violence and stalemate derailed the peace process and Arafat spent the last phase of his life under siege at his Ramallah headquarters, with Israeli tanks outside. Israel had declared him an “obstacle to peace” because of his dual support for armed attacks and peace negotiations.
Arafat was later transferred to a hospital near Paris, where he died on November 11, 2004 – according to hospital records of a brain haemorrhage caused by complications from a bowel infection.
In November last year, a Swiss study of exhumed samples of Arafat’s remains found high levels of polo- nium, which “moderately” supported a hypothesis that he could have been poisoned with the radioactive material – an allegation put forward by his widow Suha. But separate French and Russian studies concluded he died of natural causes. The Swiss study also acknowledged that the polonium could have been naturally occurring in air pockets or soil around Arafat’s decomposing remains.
Nonetheless a theory that Arafat was poisoned by Israel is still believed by many Palestinians.
For virtually his entire adult life, Arafat had one dream, and he pursued it with such energy and zeal that he came to personify the dream itself.
The dream was of self-determination and statehood for the Palestinian people, and in the end he did not live to see it. But the sheer theatrical force of his personality allowed him to almost single-handedly elevate the grievances of a few million disenfranchised Palestinians to a prominent place on the world’s political agenda.
He was reviled by many Israelis, who saw in him a modern-day Hitler, revered by many Arabs, who loved him for restoring their shattered sense of honour, and lionised by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awarded him the Peace Prize in 1994.
But although he was not universally adored by them, to Palestinians, for whom Arafat forged an identity as a distinct people striving for national liberation, he was larger than life. – Sapa-dpa, The Washington Post